I had the privilege of attending this year’s Ultimate Drum Experience, a week-long course for advanced drummers put on by the very shiny Mike Dolbear. The resident teachers this year were manic beat preacher, Billy Ward, lightning limbed Morpheus, Thomas Lang and slave to the halftime shuffle, Ash Soan. Guest sessions were given by session great, Ralph Salmins, 80’s funkmeister, Phil Gould, groovy session bassist, Winston Blissett and drum tuning guru, Jeff Davenport. There was also a business related discussion session with drumming legends Clem Cattini and Brian Bennett.
The event certainly lives up to the name. Anything more ultimate would likely cause fatalities! I had an incredible time during which preconceptions were shattered, some things I thought I’d be good at were “meh”, some things I thought I’d be “meh” at were good and some stuff didn’t change (i.e. electronic kits are the work of Satan). Among the students were teachers and gigging pros, talented, hard-working yoofs and a few committed non-professionals. Everyone was there to raise their standard and to learn about their strengths and weaknesses as well as to hang out with their peers and the teachers.
In addition to the course, there were three evening events open to the public, a drummer’s jam, a clinic with Thomas Lang and another clinic with Ash Soan and Billy Ward.
UDE is action packed and pretty tightly run. We had four classes a day of 80 minutes each. The breadth of subjects taught, discussed, digested and dissected was impressive. Each session’s material was based on a teacher’s particular approach to playing combined with discussion with the group to see where everyone wanted to go with things. The process was pretty informal although Thomas Lang drew up a list of subjects by consensus on the first day and referred to it through the week. With Ash Soan we learned about the art of playing for the song, holding down a groove and thinking about our sound and feel. He shared his passion for shuffles and had us play along to drumless tracks and analysed our time, feel and dynamics. With Billy Ward we had a chance to delve deeply into his drumming concepts and unique style and approach. We learned about developing the inner clock, listening skills and also playing to the song. Thomas Lang’s lessons were very technique focussed and involved all the students playing electronic drum kits and working through exercises aimed at developing time, facility around the kit, coordination (I discovered have none :-/) and independence.
With the guest teachers, Ralph Salmins gave us an inspiring lesson about playing the swing pulse on the ride. Phil Gould was filling in for Ash Soan and we got insights into his career and playing style and ideas for practicing with rudimental patterns. Brian Bennett & Clem Cattini talked about their histories and experience as session drummers and their relationships with the music business. Bassist Winston Blissett shared the stage with Ash Soan and he talked about his long and successful career, his approach to playing music and getting on with the people he works with. They demonstrated different styles and spoke about the relationship between the drummer and bass player in popular music. We had a chance to go up and play with Winston which was a blast. The tuning workshop with Jeff Davenport was fantastic. His simple breakdown of the tuning process was a revelation insofar as it condensed stuff that has taken me years to learn into a five minute explanation. His knowledge of drum construction, tone and the different applications was truly impressive.
The evening events were fantastic, quite a few of my students were in attendance and they were all inspired by the opportunity to see these world class players in action. I also had particular fun on the jam night playing double drums alongside one of my students.
Finally, the venue, the Bull Theatre in Barnet, NW London had a great vibe about it and was a very pleasant place to spend a week with drum gurus and students alike.
I would highly recommend the UDE course to any serious drummer who wants to learn from seasoned pros, test their mettle among their peers and network with like minded drum fanatics. In particular, from my point of view as a teacher, I found the course incredibly helpful in consolidating some of my ideas, clarifying issues with technique, groove and sound and introducing concepts that I hadn’t been aware of or had perhaps neglected to focus on.
Check out the Ultimate Drum Experience website for information about the course.
I am going to write some future posts describing some of the things I learned in greater detail. Please check back or subscribe to my RSS feed to get updated.